The newest exhibit to grace the walls of the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor is a challenging, engaging, and thought-provoking survey of issues affecting tribal people in Maine.
While the show is more educational than artistic in nature, “Headline News, Wabanaki Sovereignty in the 21st Century,” is nonetheless illuminating and transporting.
Exhibit curator Raney Bench has literally filled the Abbe’s walls with words for the show, creating a scan-proof collection of headlines, “news” pages, and direct quotes from myriad Wabanaki people. It is a dense approach that serves to highlight the complexity of the topics that are addressed.
If overwhelming at first, the show grows easier as the viewer slows down and falls into a contemplative rhythm. There is clearly much to be said, and many to say it. In today’s hyper-entertained world, the level of concentration needed may be a lot to ask, but museum leaders clearly think enough of their guests to do so.
From all sides, Maine natives speak out. Micmac, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy and Penobscot people – together known as the Wabanaki – weigh in on eight topics related to their reach for sovereignty, including the stereotypes that haunt them, the identity they sense, and the unique set of languages they struggle to maintain.
If the heavy reliance on the printed word strikes the viewer as distinct, that is because the technique is highly unconventional, said exhibit curator Raney Bench. Typically, in a museum setting, objects of art, craft or historical significance are gathered, and the accompanying text kept to a minimum. But, in “Headline News,” the words are not just explanatory text. The words, Ms. Bench said, are the objects in this exhibit.
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